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‘Water warrior’ featured on soda bottle

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This Jones soda label featuring “Water Warrior” Zoel Zhonnie will be out in January.

Ironically, there are many times over the summer when Zoel Zhonnie and his crew of “Water Warriors” delivering water to needy families around the reservation could have used something cold to drink.

You work up a thirst delivering firewood too, which is the latest endeavor of his nonprofit, Collective Medicine.

Well, he’s about to get his own soda bottle. We don’t mean, like, one bottle of soda – 50,000 bottles. An image of Zhonnie delivering water will grace 50,000 bottles of Jones Soda Co.’s green apple soda starting next month. They’ll be sold throughout the country.

Zhonnie 42, Táchíinii born for Tl’izi Lani, was chosen for the company’s “Unsung Heroes” series of labels.

Aficionados of Jones, which bills itself “the original craft soda,” know that you buy the drink as much for the label as the contents. The company solicits ever-changing designs from its consumers.

But lately, with all the turmoil in the world, it decided to use its labels to make a difference, explained Vice President of Marketing Maisie Antoniello. “We consider ourselves the people’s craft soda,” said Antoniello. “So we thought, why not use our labels as a platform for good?”

As the coronavirus took hold this past spring, the theme for the labels was “Messages of Hope.” As the election heated up, Jones started its “Vote 2020” series, encouraging its customers to vote by featuring a QR code that led to a voter registration information site.

“After the election, we were wondering, ‘What next?’” explained Antoniello. “We decided on Unsung Heroes because there are so many positive stories out there of people helping others during the pandemic.”

Zhonnie was not a regular customer of Jones Soda, he confessed. “I think I had it four years ago,” he said. But the co-founder of Collective Medicine, Pam Arthur, is a fan. It was she who submitted several photos of the Water Warriors United and their story. They chose the one of Zhonnie with an elder from Sweetwater, but Arthur said the photo really represents all the Water Warriors.

“I just fell in love with the story,” said Antoniello.

Zhonnie, reached, as usual, in his truck while hauling wood to an elder as part of Collective Medicine’s new “Sasquatch Fellowship,” said it “feels good to be recognized,” but he hopes more that it brings attention to Collective Medicine and the plight of the Navajo people.

“Maybe it will inspire someone clear across the country to donate, who knows?” said Zhonnie. It did inspire him to seek out a bottle of Jones soda. “It’s really good,” he declared.

Meanwhile, Collective Medicine doesn’t have a lot of time to rest on its laurels and drink soda. The mission to serve the isolated and chronically underserved continues.

And local and national donors are reaching out to help. Home Depot coughed up a wood splitter and $5,000 in cash for the Sasquatch Fellowship; Diné actor Tatanka Means, upon hearing someone stole two flatbed trailers from Water Warriors, donated a replacement (through some serious sleuthing, the group was able to find one of the stolen trailers and retrieve it).

“Between water and wood, we’ve been steadily busy,” said Zhonnie. The current problem is to try to find some economical way to keep the water barrels they donated to homebound elders from freezing so they don’t burst and can be refilled, so there’s a project for any unemployed engineers out there.

To date, Water Warriors United has delivered close to 300,000 gallons of water and the Sasquatch Fellowship has dropped off 24 tons of firewood, much of it gleaned from Forest Service thinning projects and families who had cut down trees and needed the wood hauled away.

If you’d like to help out, they can always use volunteers. Who knows? Maybe someday you’ll be on a soda bottle.

Information: gallery.jonessoda.com, collectivemedicine.net. Jones soda can be purchased at Kroger grocery stores and online.


About The Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at cyurth@navajotimes.com.

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